This is an affliction very common among politicians and civil servants globally, prevalent in countries such as the UK, the US and India.
This affliction illustrates weaknesses of character, where power is involved rather than an issue of race. The issues surrounding Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief Azam Baki perhaps illustrate this from a local perspective.
I recall representing the Business Ethics Institute of Malaysia (BEIM) on the MACC academy committee. Everyone titled and distinguished from the establishment would attend the committee meetings. Notably, I was of the minority species. The rest, the 99%, were titled – all distinguished Malay civil servants.
The proceedings would start with the minutes followed by presentations. Rarely were questions posed. The BEIM objected and I resigned when the then attorney general appointed someone from the Attorney General’s Chambers to become the next MACC commissioner.
We thought it should be someone promoted from within the MACC. As it so happened, events proved theirs was a bad choice. The personal scandals that followed this individual’s appointment as MACC commissioner further affirmed the poor quality of people selected.
Our protest letter and resignation was sent to the then chief secretary, Ali Hamsa. We did not receive an acknowledgment. We did not want to be a mere decoration on the committee. It is amazing to watch the culture of subservience that surrounds individuals with power.
I am thus not surprised by Dr Edmund Terrence Gomez’s statements.
Now we have the advisory board chairman, Abu Zahar Ujang, whose views have been challenged by other board members. With their titles and positions, they rarely know how to be inclusive. Questions are perceived as threats.
The chairman was so confident no one would question his assertions – for this is the nature of the culture that promotes ‘samethink’ paralysis – which, in essence, is also feudal in nature.
Dr Gomez is used to questions and weighs issues. Without the antithesis to the thesis, one will never discover synthesis or clarity.
While there are many Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds who will speak out and take positions, we rarely see this breed within the ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacist) group. Their culture is to listen but not question. By their silence, they continue to condone the wrong that is obvious!
Perhaps this is one reason people of other ethnic backgrounds are not represented within government-linked companies or the upper echelons of the civil service and other important committees. When they are present, they are perceived as troublemakers because they question and raise issues. We can see this even in Parliament and parliamentary committees.
Imagine the freedom with which former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his then deputy, Zahid Hamidi, did all that they did and the scale at which they operated. They believed they could get away with it, as they were confident no one would question what was going on. This shows the serious nature of both deep systemic corruption and ‘samethink paralysis’, which make this possible.
Today, these two are facing grave charges. What happened is largely due to the silence of many who condoned their actions and who are, even today, still in government as ministers and walking the corridors of power. Many who were members of their cabinet and party also come from all ethnic backgrounds, but this ‘bacteria’ afflicts them all.
Today, some have become political frogs (defectors) – but has their character changed? It is said that if people spend over two decades in government, either as a senior civil servant or a ruling politician, many will have no more vertebras left in their bodies. They evolve into spineless, selfish individuals.
The Azam Baki issue in some ways illustrates this reality. He is strong because he is perceived to have information that could be held against powerful personalities in all sectors of government, the civil service and politics. Only those with clean hands and guts will stand up and speak up for justice. Where can you find this rare breed?
Why is Sungai Buloh MP Sivarasa Rasiah’s service centre manager called to the Sessions Court for an alleged corruption offence relating to events in 2017? Many will perceive this as power play by the MACC, thus highlighting possible misuse of power and position. Has this got any link with the MP raising the issue of Azam Baki’s substantial shares in listed firms in Parliament?
Here is an MACC chief commissioner who can even defy Parliament. If he had a moral compass and valued his sense of integrity, he would have been open to an independent investigation. But he is clever enough to realise his power only exists with his position, and therefore stepping down to clear his name would perhaps be the first step out of the door.
Corruption is endemic in Malaysia. Just consider the critical institutions of governance that have been plagued by this affliction.
Bank Negara with its two previous governors are both now under a cloud. One deputy governor unable to accept the compromises resigned because of his convictions.
We do not know about the status of a former CEO of the Companies Commission of Malaysia, who also had to resign due to issues relating to alleged corruption.
The same can be said for some of the earlier leadership of the Securities Commission, who had to resign citing conflict of interest issues.
Let us not talk of the embarrassment to the MACC itself when millions went missing, and their own officers held accountable and, in some cases, charged.
None other than the former inspector general of police informed us through the press about corruption within the police force.
We have read of planes and equipment bought for the Armed Forces, which have never arrived.
Further, the auditor general’s reports regularly highlight juicy evidence of poor accountability and misuse of money and facilities.
Much of this is possible because of the endemic nature of samethink paralysis. If you speak out, then you may lose out on titles, promotions, perks and other benefits. You have to sacrifice your spine and keep silent.
If you speak out, then you will be ostracised even within the community. Alternatively, you will find very little support.
Consider the case of retired Justice Hamid Sultan of the Court of Appeals and how the judiciary, the cornerstone of our reflection of justice, recoiled within itself and silenced him through the ethics committee. The sheer lack of commitment shown by judicial colleagues to support the courage of an individual in the interest of justice is alarming.
I had been one of those who believed that ‘reformasi’ was possible by joint action from within the nation. Increasingly, I believe we need voices like Sarawak Report, the international media, the US Department of Justice and other Malaysian writers overseas to highlight the predicaments we face.
We are on a slippery road downhill, and by the time we reach the depths, we will, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, be looking to the International Monetary Fund or China to bail us out.
Vested interests remain so powerful that self-interest and sheer preservation force them to shut the voices of critics and trample on any form of dissent.
The recent floods and landslides have shown us that deforestation is a critical issue. In some states, this is a matter that involves people in high places. So the problem continues and the people suffer while the rich elites plunder.
If you expose wrongdoings, you risk having cases taken against you or those associated with you. Our Whistleblower Protection Act needs greater support for whistleblowers. Many see wrongs being committed, whether it is abuse of power, sexual exploitation, corruption, favouritism, cronyism or nepotism. Perhaps, for some, race and ‘rezeki’ (incomes and livelihoods) justify their silence!
We need independent voices with the courage to speak out and nail these elites who abuse their powers, and this can only be done if we empower whistleblowers. Why are some of the Islamic groups not doing more by standing up for Islamic values? Loyalty demands dissent, failing which elites with power will sell the soul of this nation while masquerading as patriots.
Many within the establishment do not want to do so and prefer samethink paralysis, which is the breeding ground for so much of our present challenges.
We now have groups referred to as “court clusters”. Imagine the power of the executive that may override the notion of the separation of powers. Having done so on several occasions in the past, they believe they can do so again.
Our trust deficit in relation to institutions of governance, the judiciary, the executive and the legislature is deep because those who condoned the widespread abuse of power and wealth in the cases of both Najib Razak and Zahid Hamidi still walk the corridors of power in Malaysia. Those who are today part of the court clusters seem confident they can make a difference to the scales of justice in Malaysia.
Neither vaccines nor boosters can be an antidote to ‘samethink paralysis’. If we read about the powerful impact that Islam had on the lives of Muhammad Asad or Malcolm X, one then wonders how this magic has been lost. Their transformation was inspiring.
Perhaps, as Imam Al-Ghazali says, Islamic culture has lost its way, with people merely going through the motions of worship and not seeking to transform themselves. Perhaps this can also be said of most people steeped in religiosity, whatever their religious orientation.
As JH Leuba, an early psychologist of religion, once said: “God is not known, not understood, but used”. Ultimately, religion takes the blame for the weaknesses of people.